Since the 1960s, adult obesity rates in the US have more than doubled, causing an enormous health crisis in the country. There are a number of reasons for this, and one of the most important is our increasingly sedentary lifestyle. Unlike earlier generations, we spend our time being passively entertained with electronic devices instead of going outside. For many of us, exercise is viewed as a form of punishment.
These patterns and attitudes are ingrained in us at an early age, and can have an enormous impact on our adult lives. Because of that, it’s every parent’s responsibility to help our own children develop a healthy attitude toward active play and the out of doors.
Build positive associations
Culturally, we treat exercise, sports, and other outdoor activities as difficult, strenuous, and extreme in some way. In school and on TV children are shown that running laps, doing pushups, and other exercise is a form of punishment. It shouldn’t be a surprise that many children, especially those who don’t naturally excel physically, become averse to the idea of participating at all. To change that, we need to adjust our own attitudes.
Work on applying the “recess model” of play. Going outside, running around, playing, and exercising are rewards. Getting out of the house, whether it’s into the backyard, to the playground, or to participate in a sport, is an opportunity to be free and have fun. Encourage your kids to invite friends and build social connections around outdoor activities.
Start early and small
You don’t have to wait until your kids are old enough to ride bicycles or go on hikes before you introduce them to exercising for fun. This is important, because getting them outside after they’ve already established that they like to spend all day in front of the TV or playing with an iPad on the couch is far more difficult than teaching them to value it from the start.
All outdoor play is exercise, and a lot of it is more fun than walking along a trail. Swinging on a web swing, digging in a sandbox, playing tag, or splashing in a pool are all great ways to unwind outside that don’t have an age limit.
Don’t rely on highly structured activities
Structured, clearly defined activities that adults tend to gravitate toward such as biking, running, or martial arts can feel oppressive and boring to children. If they don’t show a specific interest in these kinds of play, encourage them to get creative and do whatever comes naturally.
Play is a learning activity for kids, and they’ll have a lot more fun if they’re free to explore. Of course, this makes it doubly important for parents and guardians to keep an eye on their kids to keep them safe.
Kids who learn to see outdoor play as a way to be free, to reward themselves, and to relieve stress gain a big advantage later in life. Their childhood memories will help them to develop a long-term appreciation for active play and exercise as adults.